Fifty-three years is not a ripe old age to live to. The average life expectancy in the developed world is over eighty so when former United footballer Ralph Milne passed this week, I immediately looked for the cause. I knew he was at United the year Giggs made his debut.
One report put the reason as liver failure but when reading Stuart Mathieson’s touching tribute in the MEN, I found the key sentence. “Milne had struggled with alcohol and gambling addictions.”
In all likelihood, he has drunk himself to death. Georgie Best is United’s most famous addiction alumnus, currently serenaded with the ‘go on the piss with George Best’ terrace chant that is both funny and close to the line. There are scores of other former United players who have had similar issues, but I cannot write about their cases here.
Milne won the championship with Dundee United in Scotland and was part of Fergie’s early story at United. He could easily have enjoyed his twilight years in the lounges around Old Trafford or Tannadice Park if things had worked out differently. That should have been enough.
The culture of ‘more’ runs through football like the canal through our city and it has a brutal legacy for those who don’t make it. Players are pushed to run more, score more, tackle back more. Even the most successful teams in the history of the game must keep winning to stay one step ahead of their rivals. Perhaps this is why football is so popular, it matches our social system perfectly.
The central idea of capitalism is that growth is good. Manchester United embody this perhaps more than any other football club and their enormous kit deal and global fan-base, estimated at 660 million, are testament to this.
In some ways, United are as successful as ever at the moment. They have money in the bank that boggles the mind. The new shirt is apparently the best-selling in Adidas’s history, despite being on the market for only a month. The club have almost as many fans as the population of Europe and they have more league titles than anyone else in the land. But it isn’t enough.
Football results are numerically tangible and they have been below par for a couple of years now. Being sufficient for Champions League qualification is only good enough for the balance sheet and performances on the pitch haven’t been up to scratch for a while.
We all know that the players have to deliver at the moment, much like they had to in Milne’s second season, 1989-90, after the club had splurged more than ever in the previous summer.
Wayne Rooney is being leaned on more heavily than even he could have envisioned. Most players who take the accolade of their country’s top marksman do so in the sedentary years of their career. As Barney Ronay identified in a recent Guardian article, there is no room for an easing of the pace in Wayne’s world. He is under more pressure than ever. He needs to do more.
Wayne will rise to the challenge to the best of his abilities. In his career he has confounded the critics on countless occasions. However, if his goals don’t fire United to a trophy this season those same critics will be lurking around with their daggers already sharp. It is a thankless task that he faces in many ways.
During a League Managers Association dinner a few years ago, Ferguson declared that Ralphe Milne had been his worst ever signing. He cited the criticism he got as a reason for this.
For Milne himself, he was just delighted to play for United, the same as anybody else would have been. For a while at least. That was enough.
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